Blanco to the rescue again
Now that the Hex has drawn to a close, we know the three teams that are moving on to South Africa, and which one still has some work to do. CONCACAF always gets a bad rap, from within and without, in regard to its level of play. Regardless, this has been the most competitive hex since its inception in 1998: 5 teams were still alive with 2 matches to go. Compare that to 2006 when 3 teams were in with plenty of games in hand.
So let’s look back at the 8 month, 10 game round robin:
Obviously USA, Mexico, and Honduras. They earned the right to send their best 23 to Africa. Now the draw awaits. Let’s not kid ourselves, though, whichever groups these three end up in will all be extremely difficult. Especially if they are potted with Asian minnows.
Carlos de los Cobos. The El Salvador coach did more with less than any other coach in this region, or any other. He scouts games in a league that uses pick-up trucks as team buses. He does not have the luxury of fielding players who play in Europe. Yet, no team played harder than these Cuscatlecos.
Carlos Pavón. I joined the chorus of calling Honduras chokers after Pavon missed the penalty in the Catrachos’ 3-2 loss to the US. Pavon then redeemed himself with the winning goal at the Cuscatlan. Honduras was the only team that won in San Salvador. Pavon eneded up as the Hex’s top scorer. Mis disculpas, Carlos.
Costa Rica. After 5 games, the Ticos were comfortably in 1st place with 12 points. Then they dropped 3 games in a row, conceding 8 goals and scoring none. Their time wasting antics in their last match vs. the US did nothing but cost them an automatic spot. Now they are faced with two-legged date with the Charuas. The first leg will be without their coach, who kingpinned said time wasting antics.
Jorge Vergara: The man responsible for Hugo Sanchez’ ouster and his replacement (Sven Goran Ericksson) almost derailed Mexico’s world cup dreams. To think that Mexico was on the verge of not even making the hex, if it were not for Matias Vuoso’s goal in Edmonton last October. Vergara consciously pulled himself out of the spotlight and let Javier Aguirre and company right the ship.
Honduras 2-3 USA. This one had it all, apparently. Goal to goal action, lead changes, 90th minute drama, and an eventual ticket punched in the end for the USA. It’s too bad no one watched it.
Best individual performance:
Giovani dos Santos, Costa Rica vs. Mexico. The young Dos Santos got Mexico’s world cup campaign back on track with a goal right at the close of the 1st half. He then set up two second half walk-ins to put Mexico into the top three, while sending Costa Rica on their way to playoff purgatory.
Most Bizarre Juxtaposition:
Mexico can’t buy a break in San Pedro Sula, but the Saprissa is Estadio Azteca South. The US looks like a fraternity team well into their third keg of beer in San Jose, yet kills in Honduras. Strange.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Mexico. SGE didn’t like his partying ways in Chiapas, so the Swede “encouraged” his retirement from the international game. Javier Aguirre brings Blanco back, and el Temo ends up being Mexico’s leading scorer in the Hex.
Landon Donovan, USA. It was only fitting that the USA clinched their world cup spot from a Donovan goal and a Donovan assist. He continues to be the best player in CONCACAF.
What happened to:
David Suazo, Honduras. I know he was injured for some of the hex. But for a guy who led Serie A in goals scored a few years ago, he should be one of the most feared players in the world, much less CONCACAF. Luckily for Honduras, Carlos Pavon picked up the slack.
The future is now:
Efrain Juarez, Mexico. The young Pumas player only cracked the lineup after suspensions forced Mexico’s hands at the Gold Cup. He didn’t let it go, and now looks to have solved Mexico’s problem position for years to come.
Graybeards shoulder the load:
see Pavon, Carlos, and Blanco, Cuauhtémoc.
That breeze you feel on the border… are the two Mexican TV networks breathing a huge sigh of relief. Mexico draws a 95 share when it’s playing a big one. That equates to muchos eyeballs in a country of 100 million.
Best Goals (that I saw at least. I am sure there are others):
Israel Castro, Mexico vs. USA
Ricardo Clark. USA at T&T
Amado Guevara. Hondruas vs. T&T
Noel Valladares: Honduras at El Salvador
Goal keeping – Tim Howard
Defenders – Efrain Juarez, Oguchi Onyewu, Ricardo Osorio, Maynor Figueroa
Midfield – Wilson Palacios, Eliseo Quintanilla, Israel Castro, Landon Donovan
Forwards -- Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Carlos Pavon
Nothing like the euphoria of a world cup berth